Over the past year, federal officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have repeatedly warned that anti-vaccine beliefs are undermining public health efforts across the country. Even very small pockets of unvaccinated people can have dangerous consequences, allowing contagious diseases like measles — which we once believed was totally eradicated in the U.S. — a chance to start spreading again. And other diseases that can be prevented with a vaccine, like some types of cervical cancers, remain a serious problem in areas where people tend to be skeptical about shots.
Still not convinced? You don’t have to take the CDC’s word for it. Just look at this map from the Council on Foreign Relations, which displays vaccine-preventable outbreaks across the globe (red is measles, green is whooping cough, brown is mumps, and orange is polio):
It’s not hard to see that the United States is experiencing a resurgence of measles and whooping cough — in fact, almost all of the global cases of whooping cough are concentrated here in the U.S.
As the Incidental Economist’s Aaron Carroll points out, both measles and mumps can be prevented with the MMR vaccine. But conspiracy theories suggest that shot could lead to autism, a dangerous and enduring myth that’s been directly linked to declining rates of MMR vaccination among kids. CDC officials concluded that a full 80 percent of last year’s measles cases occurred among people who had never received the MMR vaccine — and nearly 80 percent of that group cited “philosophical differences” with that particular shot.
And unfortunately, misconceptions about vaccination continue to impact Americans’ decisions about getting shots outside of the MMR vaccine, too. Recent record-breaking whooping cough outbreaks have also been tied to vaccine denial, and the CDC reports that “unacceptably low” numbers of people are getting their shots across all categories. This year’s flu season is shaping up to be particularly bad because younger Americans are skipping out on the preventative vaccine for influenza.
Advances in vaccines have virtually eradicated several once-common diseases in the United States. But this type of public health progress is only possible if people actually get the shots.